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On the stigma of the comfort zone | Amr Sobhy | TEDxVienna

On the stigma of the comfort zone | Amr Sobhy | TEDxVienna


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Sahar Khallaf So here is the thing about me, I hate hiking. and yet I’ve hiked three
major times in my life Granted, they were three of the most
beautiful places one can ever hike. I hiked the Yosemite,
a forest in southern California and the beautiful mountains
of Sinai in Egypt. Still, all through three experiences I genuinely wondered: Why? Why on earth would anyone
consider it a fun experience to climb up a mountain for hours stay at top for 30 minutes,
and then descend again? I never got it, but the one thing
that drove me to hike a second and then a third time, was the fact
that I am a byproduct of a culture that promotes fear of missing out, stigmatizes the comfort zone, and glorifies the constant
chase of experiences. This event revolves around
just that idea, right? It’s the substance of the unseen
that drives us out of the comfort zone to explore the “what if?”, and although this has positively
improved humanity as a collective, we’re here to question the patterns
ingrained in every one of us and, so I wonder, how might this constant chase
of the “what if” be negatively impacting us? And as she said, “Please don’t get me
wrong, I’m a big fan of the ‘what if’.” Just one look at how
I’ve spent my life so far is enough to see that I’m a loyal seeker
on the invisible possibilities. I’ve already been to
27 countries since 2010, I studied pharmaceutical
sciences for five years only to abandon my degree
and pursue my passion for technology. By the age of 23, I published
two poetry collections, one prose, and I focused on Arabic literature, I quit my corporate job
my horrible corporate job and my terrible boss,
and bought myself a musical instrument. I completed several projects
at the intersection between technology and civic engagement,
one of which was aimed at monitoring the performance of
the newly elected president in a country with 50 years
of military dictatorship. I even got engaged at 21
and it didn’t work out so well. My parents still wonder
what I do for a living, and 80% of my friends believe I’m a spy. So that is me and my comfort zone, But let’s step back a little bit
and try to look at the big picture I’ll be tackling the comfort zone
on two main levels; a macro level and micro level. So on a macro level of humanity,
we can’t possibly talk about leaving our comfort zone
and building a brave new space without mentioning technology
and modern education. By modern, I mean the school system that was modeled after the factories
of the industrial revolution. So technology, the most living
embodiment of this brave new space is changing the world
in an exponential way Our computational power
doubles every 18 months according to Moore’s law, and the world seems to be
heading towards a state of singularity. But there is still an
ugly face to that. We’ve built tools to connect
but we became disconnected; we built platforms to interact
but remained isolated. Social media is showing you
all the great things that are happening to everyone else, but yourself. While implanting this addictive need
for instant gratification and attention, like never before. This is the age of loneliness. A recent study in the UK found out that severe loneliness takes the lives
of 700 000 men, and more that 1.1 million women above 50,
and its rising with astonishing speed. And when it comes to education
through schooling we are led to believe that
there is only one pattern of education. And those who do not mimic
the very same pattern are not educated,
and they remain stigmatized. The western school system has led
hundreds of thousands of people even in the most basic and distant
villages to buy into this idea that their existence is obsolete, through a structured process of
planned obsolescence on human beings. Offering this urban modern consumer
culture as the only inevitable option, But what’s truly happening is,
– and their actively pursuing that and they do want to secure
that to the children – according to what I see
what’s truly happening is that we’re pushing them away
from their comfort zone; the relevant, sustainability fostering
traditional forms of education through which they’ve managed to survive
for decades, independently, and then moved them to an alienated model
of knowledge in the city and the school that’s totally
disconnected from their surroundings, force them to get a
“good” job, as we define it, and eventually become
part of the global economy. The result is, every single day
200 000 people are moving from sustainable environments
to the city, and many to live in slums, but when they fail they don’t know how
to survive in their original environments. They become disconnected
from their own identities. And while the purpose of education is to produce human beings
fully qualified to deal with life and its problems while communicating
their best traits and ideas to society, the western school system has transformed us into unified
economically viable commodities in the form employable citizens. And if we dive deep into the micro level of the individual, we’re witnessing the rise of a culture that is actively marketing
“breaking free from the comfort zone” as the only way towards self-realization But what’s “the comfort zone”, right? When I reflect on those two words,
let me try to do that: “comfort”; comfort
is the paradox of capitalism, the incredible technological progress
and the rise of industrialization have been trying to make
the lives of everyone easier through automation and products. Here is the paradox .. with this planned obsolescence of products and this kind of comfort
comes more demand. You want more, and then you have to leave your comfort
zone, work harder to get more resources so that you can sustain
your product based comfort. An empty loop of workaholism
and empty consumption that just misses the point. When it comes to the word “zone”, zoning is at the roots
of our contemporary urban practice, and those two ideas together tells you
a lot about how I feel towards that term. But psychologically speaking,
the comfort zone is any type of behavior that keeps your anxiety level
constantly low. Imagine something you are familiar with
and do all the time, like cooking dinner, community work,
or dancing the Waltz if you are in Austria And we know that because, back in 1908, two psychologists
Robert Yerkes and John Dodson explained that sustained comfort
creates steady level of performance and in order to maximize that performance, we need to create a space where our stress levels are slightly
altered to be higher than normal. But too much stress, our performance
will suffer significantly. So the entanglement
of this performance-driven model and our capitalistic world
creates a definition of “comfort zone” that is built on a narrative
of performing and achieving. Instead I want to deconstruct this model and use a narrative of being,
gratitude, and serenity So today the comfort zone is being
marketed over three main propositions. The first proposition:
“It’s essentially bad, don’t stay there.” Inspirational quotes all over social media encourage people to step out
of their comfort zone and embark on a post-heroic journey
into the depth of the unknown. Because theoretically,
it’s where the magic happens Everything you want in life is over there, totally away from where you stand. I believe this model
is inherently a self-defeating model assuming that the grass is always greener
on the other side of the fence, influences you to perceive yourself
as extremely self-deficient. And on the road towards self-realization, every single day we are asked
to be different, nonconformist, and take the path less-traveled. And when Debbie Mandel argued that
this notion is now so overly prevalent that it has become cliché
there was some truth to it. So is it possible that by taking
the common and ordinary path while, with feelings of
comfort and confidence, that might actually be
the non-conformist path? For example, me, sitting in my easy chair,
listening to a good piece of music while reading a good book. That might have been
the nonconformist path instead of hiking. So maybe we don’t need to step
out of our comfort zone, but just change the model. An alternative model
by “Karl Bimshas” invites us to visualize our discomfort
as an orange block, surrounded by sea
of comfort and certainty. This model focuses on
the areas surrounding the block, and it focuses on that we don’t need
to run from our core self to grow. From what gives us strength
we could rather use that strength to rather erode away
our source of discomfort. Proposition number two
is: now that you know it’s bad, leave it as soon as possible. Last July, I turned 26,
and I felt a bit unhappy, For the first time I was officially
closer to 30 than I am to 20. (Laughter) And let me tell you there’s
something particularly disturbing and alarming about this. And with the rise of our social isolation, we talk less about society
and more about individuals with a narrative of heroic
individualism and holy competition. And since achieving anything worthy of achieving is now linked us
to leaving our comfort zone, the world today glorifies
the invincible 20s like never before, and expects every 20-something to succeed financially,
romantically, socially, and even come up with the next big thing
before he hits the scary 30. In a recent study by Dr Oliver Robinson, an esteemed professor psychology
at The University of Greenwich in London found out that 86% of the 1100 young
people participating in the survey, they were constantly feeling
under pressure to succeed in finances, their jobs,
and their relationships. But the question is,
“has it always been like that?” The answer is, probably not,
this is a very modern idea. By the age of 30, Da Vinci was a typical
loser by any of today’s standards Marie Curie spent seven years in poverty
researching radioactive materials, and Faraday worked for seven years
as a lab assistant before he was even allowed
to conduct any experiments. Proposition number three is:
leaving is ultimate good. When we respond to the call
to leave our comfort zone and indulge into experiences, we often think this comes
at a little or no cost. But within a perspective
of happiness, gratitude, can it be costly? It seems to me that in experiencing life,
people gain the knowledge that put them at a crossroads
of two directions; one of happiness and one of suffering. And there seems to be -in some of
the scenarios- no way to avoid the burden that comes,
that may come with knowledge or the negative impact
it might have on people. And nothing could wrap this up
more than the story of “Candide”. A novel by the French
enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire, written more than 250 years ago. So Candide was a very simple innocent man,
living at the Barron’s castle. He fell in live with the baron’s
daughter, “Cunégonde”, but of course he wasn’t a noble enough
for her, so he got kicked out. Candide’s mentor, Pangloss, teaches him
that in the best of all worlds everything happens for the absolute best
that makes him very happy. Later Candide engages
in a serious of adventures, through which he manages to learn
about the various aspects of life, and throughout the novel his purpose was to find and marry Cunégonde. He’s so persistent,
he eventually succeeds. He evolves from an innocent little boy
to an experienced and practical man. But Candide starts to realize
that not everything can be looked upon positively and some of the things happening
are just not for best interest of anyone. He developed a sense
of the world as disappointing, and he started to cultivate
his own suffering, becoming, ultimately, unhappy. In the course of gaining experiences,
we might come across certain knowledge that may destroy our core
convictions, beliefs, or ignorance. And as a result, our happiness. But I’m not promoting ignorance; choosing to remain ignorant
is just not our human nature, it’s against our human nature but the question that remains
to be answered is whether or not acquiring more knowledge is always better. And when it comes
to happiness, by and large, it doesn’t really matter so much
whether things were going well. It matters whether they were going
better than expected. And this is not only
a philosophical thesis; a recent study published just this August, a group of UCL researchers found out conducting experiments
where they involved 26 subjects where they take decisions
that lead to financial wins or losses all while being monitored
by an MRI machine, later 18 420 people played a game called
“The Great Brain Experiment”, – you can download it
on your smart phone – which replicated the same experiment
but with points instead of money. And they were able to reach an equation
that can predict momentarily happiness. Here you go: [Equation on-screen] Without going into details
of the equation, what really matters is they found out that it wasn’t
the amount of total money won or points won that mattered it was how winning or losing stacked up
to our own expectations. In plain mathematics, the more expectations we have,
the less happy we become. In our everyday life, we consume
experiences falling under the magic and the power of first experiences. It’s the heroine of experiences; it’s ecstatic and you always
want more of them. But when you consume more experiences, you have the probability
of collecting more expectations and with more expectations it becomes really difficult to maintain
the same level of gratitude. The Lebanese poet, Wadee Sadaa says, “Desires spoil outings. Those having desires
no longer see the beauties of the road. Their eyes come to be elsewhere in the locus of desire,
which does not settle. They come to be in the absent,
the stolen, the nonexistent. They come to be in no-place.” The infinite search
for the new and interesting has pushed the new
and interesting to quickly become commonplace and boring
sooner than it should. A phenomenon which they mention
that’s called hedonic adaptation, which is our natural tendency to adapt to our extraordinary surroundings that we become immune to its existence. For example, it’s why if you eat every
single day, this mind-blowing ice cream everyday from Zanoni & Zanoni
near Stephansplatz, it may feel mediocre. And it’s why we have this amazing
comprehensive repository human knowledge ever created right in our pockets;
Internet on our smart-phones and all we can think about,
is “Why is it so slow? Can it be faster?” So in one way, it helps to advance. But in another, it prevents us from
appreciating the subtle and the everyday. If we maintain this relentless pursuit
and fascination of the unprecedented, we risk slipping into a vicious cycle
of never being satisfied And I’m not suggesting to stop learning, experimenting, or testing
the limits of our comfort zone. But merely to develop
a self-aware relationships with them; understand the choices that we make
and how they impact us At the end, the purpose of this talk
was not to provide any conclusions or statements. But rather to provoke questions,
thoughts, and drive conversations. So that’s what I will be leaving you with If Candide has held on to his simple life
he may have held onto his happiness. If you were Candide, would you trade
experiences for happiness? Knowledge for well being,? Achievements for serenity? The choice is yours. Thank you very much. (Applause)

9 comments

John Stuart Mill said "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." I totally agree with this. However, I also agree with the speaking on the topic surrounding reflection and gratitude for what we have. As with all things, a balance needs to be achieved. Maybe if Candide had thought about his current standing in life more, he may have been happier.

Well said, It is very naive to think you can hit the top by the age of 30 ! and not everything happen for a reason .. title is not precise though !

Interesting talk with some relatively compelling evidence. The indirect relationship between expectations and happiness, makes sense. Would have rathered more info, less poetry though..

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